Call the Covid escape agents! Got a mountain of cash, fed up with travel curbs… and able to work from anywhere? Then join the boom in Britons who have these property dealers in the sun on speed dial
- There was 63% increase in enquiries from Britons for Algarve properties
- Deluged with Britons clamouring to view multi-million euro homes for sale
- Around 15,000 own homes in Portugal while another 20,000 are resident there
- By October, Knight Frank sold more homes abroad than in the whole of 2019
A year ago, estate agent Alison Buechner Hojbjerg, who specialises in high-end Algarve properties, braced herself for the worst. Who’d want to spend millions during a pandemic on a luxury home in the Portuguese sunshine when life and finances were so uncertain, and travel banned?
She needn’t have worried. The answer was: Britons… in their droves.
‘The surge in business has been unprecedented, with a 63 per cent increase in enquiries from Britons alone — and more sales in the past year than any other,’ explains Alison, 53, who co-owns QP Savills, an associate of global agent Savills, with her sister Kerstin.
They have been selling property on the Algarve for 24 years, and despite holidays to Europe having been largely impossible this past year, they have been deluged with Britons clamouring to view multi-million euro homes for sale in the area known as the ‘golden triangle’, the most prestigious on the coast.
It comprises Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and the area north of Almancil, and is a favourite with TV and sport stars including Holly Willoughby, Rio and Kate Ferdinand, and Jamie and Becky Vardy.
For buyers, the only dilemma is whether to splurge £600,000 on a house in the hills, £9million on an uber-modern villa by the ocean, or £17.2million on a state-of-the-art luxury property on three levels with indoor and outdoor pools and spa.
Prestige: Alison Buechner Hojbjerg, at a modern house in Vale do Lobo, has seen an ‘unprecedented surge in business’
While it sounds like a an eye-boggling amount of money to most of us, it’s all in a day’s work for Alison, who doesn’t bat an eyelid when faced with homes with price tags in their millions, or clients with extravagant requests.
Just like her American counterparts in the hit series Selling Sunset — which follows a team of Los Angeles realtors — she’s used to selling ever more gorgeous (and expensive) homes.
Because when it comes to sunsets, it’s hard to beat one over the Atlantic as viewed from your clifftop home. Around 15,000 Britons own holiday homes in Portugal — another 20,000 are resident there — and far from having to shut up shop during the pandemic, Alison’s never been busier.
She’s not alone. For there are a host of high-powered estate agents beavering away across the continent, who together boast an eye-watering property portfolio and a long list of A-list clients.
Not to mention reaping the financial rewards in the process, with agencies — and in turn individual agents — pocketing a healthy commission per property, with some seeing in the area of six per cent of the property sale price.
And as these incredible pictures show, it’s the ultimate display of ‘property porn’. The number of Britons seeking property abroad has rocketed since the coronavirus outbreak, with some estate agents having a record year for overseas sales.
By last October, Knight Frank had sold more homes abroad than it did in the whole of 2019, while Savills reported new enquiries from Britons were up by more than 50 per cent versus 2019 with two of its overseas associates — Alison’s agency and another in South-West France — having record sales in 2020.
Isles of cash: Jack Newberry, at Andratx villa, has sold more properties in the first quarter of this year than in 2019
Lockdown has convinced many people that if they can work from home, that home can be anywhere — and a villa on the continent is infinitely preferable to a semi in suburbia.
Although the legislation voted in on March 25 includes a potential £5,000 fine for anyone leaving the country to travel to a red or amber list destination without good reason, consider yourself exempt from the travel ban if you are ‘preparing a residential property to move in’ or ‘to visit a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property’.
‘Since May 17 when the British travel ban was eased and Portugal went on the green list clients have been flying out, some on private jets, and our phones haven’t stopped ringing,’ Alison says.
And it doesn’t matter that Portugal is now off the green list again; would-be buyers who can’t or don’t want to travel currently are undeterred. Since January, a high number of Alison’s sales have been secured exclusively via FaceTime viewings, a phenomenal leap of faith given the money involved. ‘Some have arrived with in the region of £1.7million to spend, but Quinta do Lago and Vale de Lobo are no longer for the wealthy, but the super-wealthy, with prices starting at around £3.4million for a villa.’
Jack (pictured), 42, who is married with two young sons and works for Balearic Properties, an affiliate of Savills. said that most of his clients, which includes Premiership footballers and aristocrats, ask him to be their sole representative
But she’s got that covered. At another of her four offices a 10km drive away in Loule, where properties aren’t at such a premium, you can buy a house in the hills for between £860,000 and £1.7million and with £2.6million you could get a spectacular villa with sea views. ‘We’ve been asking clients why they’re buying,’ says Alison. ‘Most say they’ve had time to re-evaluate their lives and have had conversations with their spouse along the lines of, “you know that villa we’ve dreamed of owning on the Algarve for the last ten years, let’s do it”.’
Property porn rarely gets better than Alison’s website (qp.pt) where many of the villas are listed as POA — price on application. Rather like browsing the window of Cartier, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.
Until a couple of years ago, properties worth over £7.75million were rare. Now many are well in excess of that. ‘Villas here are typically at least 6,000 sq ft with sweeping staircases, five or six bedrooms, private pools, extensive gardens, movie and games rooms, and impressive outdoor spas,’ Alison adds. ‘Some even have helipads. Low density building means optimum privacy for owners.’
Recent buyers included a retired couple from London who sold their existing holiday home on the West coast of Portugal and upgraded to a £3.4million villa in Quinta with more space for their kids and grandkids to stay.
‘Another couple, also British, who’d holidayed here pre-Covid called in January to say they wanted to buy,’ adds Alison, a mother of three daughters. ‘My colleague did video tours of several properties for them and they bought an £860,000 three-bed villa just outside Vale do Lobo.
‘I have buyers who view properties in the chicest resorts in the south of France, Majorca and mainland Spain, but they end up buying here because they get more for their money.’
However, if the lofty price tags of Alison’s properties have left you in need of a lie down on a sun lounger, take heart. Over in France, as little as £52,000 buys a house in the rural idyll of the Dordogne.
Eilidh McGinness, 54, a former lawyer who’s owned an estate agency there for 15 years, says: ‘One middle-aged British client has just sold his Porsche in order to buy a pretty barn in the countryside here with acres of land.’
She typically charges up to four per cent commission on larger properties. ‘Another couple are looking for a property that will allow them to give up their careers in the UK and run a yoga business. When I started out in 2007, British people were looking for gites or property with lakes or land, but after the crash in 2009 they retreated. For years I mostly sold holiday homes with pools to wealthy Parisians, Belgians and Dutch. But lockdown has brought back British buyers.’
Feeling at home: Anthony Mackle, at a 15th-century listed chateau near Bergerac in the Dordogne, has seen a 50 per cent rise in British buyers… including himself
An hour away in the glamorous enclaves and lush vineyards of Bordeaux and St Emilion, Anthony Mackle, 41, sells high-end properties and says there has been a 50 per cent rise in British buyers.
Ironically, he is one of them, having sold the family home in Harrogate last summer and moved to France with his wife — a marketing director — and two young children where they now live on a vineyard.
He’s spent 20 years in real estate with a particular interest in architecture, and his portfolio includes the likes of a magnificent 15th-century chateau with ten acres, ten bedrooms and six bathrooms.
On the market at £2.57million, this ‘monument historique’ costs less than a spacious family home in the Surrey commuter belt.
‘This time last year, with the world closing in and gloom everywhere, we seized the opportunity to do what we’d always dreamed of — living in southern France surrounded by world famous vineyards,’ explains Anthony.
As an ‘agent commercial’ for Maxwell-Baynes (maxwellbaynes.com) — an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate —Anthony focuses on upmarket properties in the Gironde, Dordogne, Charente, Lot et Garonne, and Gers regions, most of them subject to a six per cent agent’s fee, payable to the company.
Recent clients include a Hollywood film producer and a Lottery winner, with multi-million properties sold unseen.
Anthony adds: ‘This week I did a virtual viewing around a beautiful equestrian estate for a British buyer — the desire for countryside living is huge.
‘I anticipate an influx when the travel restrictions are eventually eased.’
Majorca — ever popular with British holidaymakers — is also enjoying a boom. There, estate agent Jack Newberry has sold more properties in the first quarter of 2021 than in the whole of 2019, many to Britons.
Sunny outlook: Jamie Buss, at a villa in Marbella, has more clients paying cash
Stars including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, and tennis star Rafael Nadal also own properties on the island.
‘It’s highly competitive here with hundreds of agencies and little exclusivity on either the property or client side,’ explains Jack, 42, who is married with two young sons and works for Balearic Properties, an affiliate of Savills. ‘Fortunately most of my clients, who include Premiership footballers and aristocrats, ask me to be their sole representative. There’s a strange law of attraction where there can be zero interest in a property for months, then suddenly agents and buyers home in on it and it becomes a bidding war.’
Latest stats from the Spanish government estimate that as many as a million Britons own a property in Spain, a figure that’s set to rise when travel resumes. Until then, virtual viewings — almost unheard of pre-pandemic — remain en vogue.
‘Recently, a British entrepreneur bought an ultra-modern townhouse with courtyard swimming pool in Pollensa for £1.3million over FaceTime,’ Jack adds. ‘When restrictions allowed, he flew out to see what he’d bought. We spent a week flying around the island in a helicopter showing him the best vineyards and restaurants. I also sold a beautiful country finca over FaceTime for £3million to another British chap.’
Among the properties he’s currently promoting is a magnificent 200-year-old restored Spanish villa with a gym, indoor pool, library, nine bedrooms and vast courtyard filled with oleanders, orange trees and lavender, priced at £12.7million.
One vast mansion located at Son Vida overlooking Palma bay is the most expensive at £56.5million. ‘But I still believe the real luxury in Majorca is the old world culture and incredible outdoor Mediterranean lifestyle,’ he says.
On mainland Spain, Jamie Buss works for Chestertons along the Costa del Sol, serving the likes of Malaga, Marbella and Estepona, and has also seen a huge rise in enquiries from British buyers. ‘More want to pay cash rather than needing a mortgage, which is a big change since pre-pandemic,’ says Jamie.
‘Lots of people flew out to do viewings at Christmas in that small window when travel was allowed, and signed power of attorney to a local legal representative so that they can go ahead with a purchase without being present.’
French connections: Eilidh McGinness is selling this property in Saint Aulaye
At the top end, he’s selling a colossal £17.2million villa on 17 hectares of land with plans for a helipad, and soon to come to market is a finca in the Andalucian countryside for £3million, where Antonio Banderas and his ex-wife Melanie Griffith often stayed.
But selling property on the Costa del Sol can be a cut-throat business. ‘Last week, we were on the verge of selling a £1.7million property to a British entrepreneur but he pulled out at the last minute having got a better deal on a similar villa with a different agent,’ he says.
At the more affordable end of the market, clients cite outdoor space as a greater priority since the pandemic.
‘Even those looking for an apartment want a large terrace, not just a balcony. In the back of people’s minds, they’re thinking about second homes they could escape to if there are more lockdowns.’
For the same reasons, Jamie and his girlfriend recently sold their apartment in Nerja and bought a spacious property with its own pool in the countryside.
‘Some of the prices here may seem high, but not everyone has suffered financially during the pandemic. With nothing to spend their money on, many high earners in the tech, finance and pharmaceutical sectors have more cash burning a hole in their pockets than ever.
‘Coupled with a desire for a better lifestyle post-Covid, they’re chasing that coveted second home in the sun that they never got round to buying until now.’
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